What is the secret to a healthy life? Is it money or success? A big house or a flash car? When we focus on external gain at the expense of others, and even ourselves, we are task-focused, and this is useful in certain circumstances. (Even our Neolithic ancestors had to focus on the task of fleeing the sabre-toothed tiger, to survive long enough to pass on human life to you.) But this isn’t enough.
To have a healthy life we also need to focus on our own self-respect. We are not just cogs in a wheel or pawns to be played by others. We have thoughts and feelings, and we have a sense of self-respect. So we need to take care of that. But even that is not enough.
To truly have a healthy life, we need to connect to others. Connection confirms the edges of our personality; Charles Horton Cooley calls this the Looking-Glass Self; we see ourselves according to how others view us. Connection is so important that neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman claims 'we can make ourselves smarter, happier, and more productive' ‘by 'building on our social intuition'. In addition, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Dan Siegal says that ‘the more we connect with others and embrace the reality of our interconnected nature, the more we’ll live with meaning, compassion, equanimity, and purpose’.
And yet when we were at school we were chastised for whispering to our friends. We were constantly encouraged to redirect our attention to the task at hand. So what about this all-important task of developing human connection?
What we were actually being taught at school was that the secret to a healthy life is the ability to strike a balance between these competing demands. We need to continually assess when we need to –
To strike a balance means that we need to become skillful in all three areas, not just one or two. Once we have worked this out, we then need to focus on achieving that objective. Set out below are some tips to help you with that.
Tips to help you preserve a relationship
Tips to help you when the objective is the task
When you need to preserve your self-esteem
Life is so much easier when we are true to ourselves as much as we are true to other people. We all need to be heard and understood, even if we don’t all agree. The more we can strike a balance between our tasks, our relationships, and our own self-esteem, the healthier and happier our lives will be.
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Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC